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Ronald G. Young "Ronald Young" (carpathian mountains)

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Them And Us: Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society
Them And Us: Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society
by Will Hutton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A challenging book, 12 Nov. 2010
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I have read all the Hutton books of the past 15 years and have been impressed by the way he exposes the values which underpin the operation of our economic and social systems - the use his 1995 book made of the stakeholder concept to distinguish Anglo-saxon from the European social model was well done - and further developed in his The World We're in and also the The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century. But I have always been left with a vague sense of unease. I think this book has helped me understand why.
Hutton always seems to give us the big picture - just look at the titles - but, at the end of the day, the focus is generally about fixing Britain. Despite, therefore, his attacks on neo-liberalism and defence of public services, his model remains a thoroughly economic one of the global battle of nation against nation. But the latest global crisis has made a growing number of people dissatisfied with this model (see below). For the moment, however, let's look at his arguments for a fairer society.
After the opening chapter you hit a rather forbidding 80 pages of philosophical material on Fairness. I got discouraged and left it lying on my bookshelves - until I decided to skip on to the middle of the book. I enjoyed the chapter on Innovation, Innovation, Innovation" - where the public status of universities is strongly defended. But it was page 271 before I reached the heart of the matter (the chapter with the rather odd title of Dismantling the Have-What-I-hold Society"). Frankly these 40 pages rarely rise above the level of an insipid undergraduate essay. Statistic is piled upon after statistic (often foreign) - and then a jump is made to a series of ad-hoc recommendations which just leave you gasping. One of them, for example, is to channel the proceeds of an inheritance tax to the disadvantaged" - finishing with the words - ëven the left suspect the poor are spendthrifts and one spendthrift will blight the way the whole system is regarded. But this need not be an issue if those who receive the proceeds had to agree to some form of reciprocal responsibility like committing to use the assets for some form of self-improvement or self-investment". Very convincing! It would make a great election slogan! Even more damning for a book about fairness which is replete with academic references is the failure to mention some recent well known British writing about equality. This book appeared in October 2010 - the introduction is dated 21 July 2010 and is able to comment on the emergence of the coalition government references to which also are scattered in the text of the book. And yet, amazingly, no mention whatsoever appears of Wilkinson and Pickles's The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone which appeared more than a year earlier. Nor is any reference made of David Dorling's prolific writings - although admittedly his great book on Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists came out too late for Hutton. Their arguments are far more detailed, powerful and comparative than those to be found in Hutton's boook.
Will Hutton is one of the few people who has the wide inter-disciplinary reading necessary for anyone who wants to say anything useful to us about how we might edge societies away from the abyss we all seem to be heading toward. But any convincing argument for change need to tackle four questions -
* Why do we need major change in our systems?
* Who or what is the culprit creating the problems which require to be dealt with?
* What programme might start a significant change process?
* What mechanisms (processes or institutions) do we need to implement such programmes?

Time was when most writing focussed on the first question - people needed convincing there was something wrong - hence the need for books like Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy and Naomi Klein's No Logo. Now people don't need convincing - they are looking for answers. Society seems to need culprits - and hence bankers have become the easy whipping boy but also, in more sophisticated analyses, the governments and politicians who relaxed the regulations to which the financial system used to be subject. But this just begs the question - how did governments and políticians come to do that? And writers such as David Harvey The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism point us to the marxist theory of surplus the state we're in. It really is a pity that Hutton has nothing to say about such writers.
The first two questions require pretty demanding analytical skills - of an interdisciplinary sort which is fairly rare. Will Hutton is a rare journalist who keeps up not only with relevant social science but also philosophical literature and can therefore supply a clear, original and coherent answers to the first three of these questions. His penultimate chapter is a clear and magisterial overview of the economic and political reality faing the world's big ploayers. The book, however, does not really begin to answer the final question - the "how"of change - which is particularly pertinent for Hutton since the stakeholder analysis he brought with his 1995 The State We're In: (Revised Edition): Why Britain Is in Crisis and How to Overcome It chimed with the times, did persuade a lot of people and seemed at one stage to have got the Prime Minister's ear and commitment. It did not happen, however, and Hutton surely owes us an explanation of why it did not happen. The Management of Change has developed in the past 2 decades into an intellectual discpline of its own - and Hutton might perhaps use some it in a future edition of the book to explore this question. He might find Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results particularly stimulating (I certainly did). The weakness of the approach also shows in the chapter which deals with the deficiencies of the political system and media. All the well-known criticisms are made - but only passing reference is made to the Power Report and campaign which we saw from 2006-2010. Here was a determined attempt by some of the great and good to expose and campaign for major change to the political system. Why it appears so have achieved so little is a fundamental question for anyone wanting to tackle the inequities and iniquities of the British system. And his conclusion gives thoughtful and positive reasons for viewing the arrival of a coalition government as opening a strong window of opportunity.
Perhaps I am being too critical. This is one of these rare books which actually makes you think - and to want to reread soon.


One No, Many Yeses: A Journey to the Heart of the Global Resistance Movement
One No, Many Yeses: A Journey to the Heart of the Global Resistance Movement
by Paul Kingsnorth
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best - and just as relevant as when written, 7 Nov. 2010
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You might think, seven years on, it may now not be worth reading - but it is. And I say this as someone who is fairly well read in this field - for example David Korten's work egThe Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism; Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: Economics as if the World Mattered and David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism.
This sort of book needs to have both good analysis and good praxis (what do we do now?). Unlike many other writers, Kingsnorth provides both by letting other people tell their own stories.
Of course it would be good to have an update - to know the progress the various movements have made and how the characters he met might now amend their views - not least in the light of the latest global crisis. But the book inspires you to do your own research - and indeed take your own action.
Like another reader, I closed this book with a strong commitment to get off my backside and do more to give hope to others.


The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century
The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century
by Peter Watson
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars compulsive read - for an important topic, 6 Nov. 2010
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A well-produced book by Peter Watson which attempts to rectify what he (rightly) considers to be a serious ignorance by the English-speaking world of what Germany has contributed to the world in the past two centuries. The long introduction which summarises various recent debates about the distinctiveness of German development in that period (eg the "Historikerstreit" of the 1980s and the later "Sonderweg" thesis) is intellectual history at its best and demonstrate the depth of Watson's reading and understanding (all referenced with incredible detail). I'm only at page 155 so far but his treatment of the 18th century musicians and dramatists brought these people alive for me. I found it difficult to get through an earlier book of his - A Terrible Beauty: The People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind: A History but find myself turning the pages of this latest book very eagerly. It helps that the page layout is much better than his earlier book - and that the chapters are short. Pity that the sheer size of his books makes it difficult for a few etchings to be included - to break up the text!


A Case of Two Cities: Inspector Chen 4 (Inspector Chen Cao)
A Case of Two Cities: Inspector Chen 4 (Inspector Chen Cao)
by Qiu Xiaolong
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Just as good!, 5 Nov. 2010
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I simply cannot agree with the majority of the reviews. This the third of the series I have read ("A Loyal Character Dancer" is sadly out of print)and I felt it was as good as his first - with his new role in the second half of the book as Head of a visiting Delegation in the United States adding an interesting dimension (not least with the group dynamics). The information on Chinese eating is still there - with the contact with the Chinese community. My habit - generally with non-fiction books - is to pencil mark passages I would want to return to; fiction books have to be crafted very well to justify such marking and this was the first of the Chen books to get such marks! I particularly enjoyed the cheeky episode where he slipped into the role of a soothsayer!


Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership)
Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership)
by Robert E. Quinn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best of the change literature, 18 Oct. 2010
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As the blurb says - "the idea that inner change makes outer change possible has always been part of spiritual and psychological teachings. But not an idea that's generally addressed in leadership and management training". Quinn looks at how leaders such as Christ, Gandhi and Luther King have mobilised people for major change - and suggests that, by using 8 principles, "change agents" are capable of helping ordinary people to achieve transformative change. These principles are -
* Envisage the productive community
* Look within
* Embrace the hypocritical self
* Transcend fear
* Embody a vision of the common good
* Disturb the system
* Surrender to the emergent system
* Entice through moral power

The book is an excellent antidote for those who are still fixated on the expert model of change - those who imagine it can be achieved by "telling", "forcing" or by participation. Quinn exposes the last for what it normally is (despite the best intentions of those in power) - a form of manipulation - and effectively encourages us, through examples, to have more faith in people. My only reservation about the book is that it does not emphasise enough that such processes require careful structuring and catalysts (see Brown; Isaacs; and Wheatley)


Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (As heard on Radio 4)
Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (As heard on Radio 4)
by Qiu Xiaolong
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Knocks Larrson for Six!, 18 Oct. 2010
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A really excellent read - a highly intelligent mix of narrative, of description of life in 1990s Shanghai with the new market system coexisting uneasily with the privileges of the communist elite - and of Chinese literary and cooking insights
The author has been an American academic for the past 15 years or so and this is one a series about Inspector Chen which knocks the Stieg LarssonThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium Trilogy Book 3)into a cocked hat.


The Breakdown of Nations
The Breakdown of Nations
by Leopold Kohr
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the most original and clear writer of the century, 18 Oct. 2010
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What a book!! It pulsates with clarity, originality, wit and contemporary relevance. Part of his argument is that - just as companies grow large and inefficient and have to be broken up by Monopoly Commissions - so have States grown to a size that makes them dangerous. Remember he was an economist - and drafted the book in the early 1950s! He quotes the evidence there was even then that innovation came from small companies and that decreasing returns of scale set in early (evidence continues to accumulate that few company mergers are successful - and yet they continue).
In similar vein, he shows that cultural excellence was produced in small states - which may not have always been peaceful but whose wars with one another were short and limited in their damage. His early chapters are powerful statements that, when an organisation reaches the point of domination, it will always succumb to the temptation of aggression.
And he anticipates the more contemporary arguments of writers such as Fridjof Capra and Margaret Wheatley about what students of organisations can learn from physics and the new insights into "chaos" - by a simple observation about "atoms".
His main challenge, however, is to the principle of specialisation and you will find in chapter 6 - "The Efficiency of the Small". There he is merciless in his critique of the "wealth" of the "modern" world - daring to suggest that most of is useless and counter-productive and that people were happier in medieval times! "The more powerful a society becomes, the more of its increasing product - instead of increasing individual consumption - is devoured by the task of coping with the problems caused by the rise of its very size and power"
I always have pencilled underlines, ringed sections and inserted exclamation marks in the good books I read - and my copy of this book is almost disfigured! Two insights I found particularly relevant - one which he produces as one of the reasons for the intense cultural productivity of the small state - "in a large state, we are forced to live in tightly specialised compartments since populous societies not only make large-scale specialisation possible - but necessary. As a result, our life's experience is confined to a narrow segment whose borders we almost never cross, but within which we become great single-purpose experts"... "A small state offers the opportunity for everybody to experience everything simply by looking out of the window" - whereas a large state has to employ a legion of soi-disant experts to define its problems and produce "solutions".
The other striking comment he makes is - "the chief blessing of a small-state system is ...its gift of a freedom which hardly ever registers if it is pronounced.....freedom from issues....ninety percent of our intellectual miseries are due to the fact that almost everything in our life has become an ism, an issue... our life's efforts seem to be committed exclusively to the task of discovering where we stand in some battle raging about some abstract issue... The blessing of a small state returns us from the misty sombreness of an existence in which we are nothing but ghostly shadows of meaningless issues to the reality which we can only find in our neighbours and neighbourhoods"
Most people would probably see this as utopian - and yet its argument is ruthless. As he puts it at one stage in the argument - "many will object to the power or size theory on the ground that it is based on an unduly pessimistic interpretation of man. They will claim that, far from being seduced by power, we are generally and predominantly animated by the ideals of decency, justice, magnanimity etc This is true, but only because most of the time we do not possess the critical power enabling us to get away with indecency".
This is the bible for both new management and the "slow-food" movement! The writing sparkles - and includes a good joke about a planner who, having died, is allowed to try to organise the time people spend in Heaven into more rational chunks of activity, fails and is sent to help organise Hell. "I'm here to organise Hell", he announces to Satan - who laughs and explains that "organisation IS hell".
I keep coming back to the book - as you will see if you punch the author's name into [...]


Theories of Performance: Organizational and Service Improvement in the Public Domain
Theories of Performance: Organizational and Service Improvement in the Public Domain
by Colin Talbot
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars best in its field, 13 Oct. 2010
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As someone who has been involved in improvement efforts at the academic, political and consultancy level for the past 35 years, I have followed Colin Talbot's writings with some interest. He writes in a clear and stimulating way (for an academic!) about public management; does consultancy and writes a blog. It was therefore with some impatience that I waited for this book and now pause to make sense of it. It is indeed an impressive tour de force - which surveys both the very extensive academic literature and also the global government endeavours in this field over the past few decades. As befits an academic, he roots his contribution conceptually before moving on to survey the field - and this is an important contribution in what is all too often a shamefully theoretically-lite field. For the first time I read a reasonably analytical treatment of the various quality measures which have developed in the last decade such as The Common Assessment Framework. His references to the literature are invaluable. I am grateful to him for introduction to the concept of clumsy solutions - which uses culture theory to help develop a better way of dealing with public problems
[...]
On the downside, however, the text is a bit dense and compressed in parts - with too many (all too brief) five point lists and summaries (the chapter on performance and public values was particularly frustrating) .
I also found the basic focus disappointing - I had hoped (the title notwithstanding) that it would give the senior manager charged to make things happen something to work with. After all, his equally academic colleague Chris Pollit gave us The Essential Public Manager - so it would be nice to have someone with Talbot's experience, reading and coherence write something for senior managers - and for different cultures. Those trying to design improvement systems in Germany, Romania, China, Estonia, Scotland and France, for example, all confront very different contexts.
Despite his introductory references to his consultancy work, the few references he makes are apologetic ("it's not research of course"). I appreciated his critical comments about the suggestions about gaming responses to the New Labour target regime - but was disappointed to find no reference to Gerry Stoker's important article on this [...]%20paper%20chilworth%20manor.pdf; a paragraph about Michael Barber's Deliverology book which gives no sense of the dubious assumptions behind that particular approach; and really surprised, finally, to find no reference to John Seddon's systems critiques
[...]
These comments should, however, not detract from the achievement of the book - written by one of the acknowledged masters in the field. I am confident that the book will, deservedly, become the classic in its field.


A Snake's Tail Full of Ants: Art, Ecology and Consciousness (Resurgence Book)
A Snake's Tail Full of Ants: Art, Ecology and Consciousness (Resurgence Book)
by John Lane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars tantalising, 8 Sept. 2010
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An ambitious book which starts with great promise - a social interpretation of cultural activities. Of course it's impossible for one person to cover all significant European movements of 600 years in the confines of one book - but there seem some glaring ommissions for this theory of the brutalising effects of humanism and how some literature, music, film and painting has tried to inspire us to a new way of seeing and feeling eg Art Nouveau.


LIFE & HOW TO SURVIVE IT - TSP EDN
LIFE & HOW TO SURVIVE IT - TSP EDN
by R Skynner & John Cle
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars must buy, 18 April 2010
Definitely one of the most helpful books of the decade ! A therapist and leading British comedian have a
Socratic dialogue about the principles of healthy (family) relationships and then use these to explore the preconditions for healthy organisations and societies: and for leadership viz -
- valuing and respecting others
- ability to communicate
- willingness to wield authority firmly but always for the general welfare and with as much consultation as possible while handing power back when the crisis is over)
- capacity to face reality squarely
- flexiblity and willingness to change
- belief in values above and beyond the personal or considerations of party.


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